Almost everyone in the United States has heard something about the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It's just a fanciful tale to most people outside of church, often referenced with sensual overtones and mockery.
Most people – even Christians – don't know the full story as told in the Bible. Most have never read it carefully themselves and cannot speak with confidence about it.
In both church culture and popular culture, so much has been added to the story that it hardly resembles what the Bible really says.
The purpose of this Bible study is to help Christians understand and explain from scripture the full Garden of Eden story and the theology learned from it.
This will help Christians recognize the add-ons that theologians and religious groups have appended to the story over the centuries.
God comes to earth and initiates a personal relationship with humans!
He chose one man – Adam – to receive the first law and accountability ... to move beyond physical life to spiritual life, even the possibility of eternal life.
Man had never personally encountered God before, and now a whole new quality and dimension were added to human existence.
Four thousand years later, God would physically come to earth again in the person of Jesus Christ and initiate an even more intimate relationship between God and man and make eternal life freely available to everyone everywhere.
Even today, for reasons we don't understand, God chooses to reveal himself to some people but not to others, mostly a consequence of time and place.
The story of the Garden of Eden is told in Genesis 2:8 thru 4:26.
'The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, 'You are free to eat from any tree in the Garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.'' (Genesis 2:15-17).
The Garden of Eden is both a time and a place.
According to Bible genealogy, the time was approximately 4000 BC. See chart on a calculation of Bible times.
The Bible says that the Garden of Eden was at or near the headwaters of four named rivers. Even though the names and courses of two of the rivers have changed and are now impossible to identify precisely, it appears that this garden ('special place') was in present-day Iraq (formerly Mesopotamia, known as the cradle of civilization) between the Tigris and Euphrates, near the Persian Gulf.
See highlights and major themes of the story in the overview of the Eden story.
See answers to frequently asked questions in Q&A Garden of Eden.
This Bible study Topic 1.4 is not so much about the story narrative as it is about the theological doctrines which have grown out of the narrative.
Genesis was written about 3,000 years ago. Over time many extraneous concepts have been interwoven into the story so that people now think the Bible says more about Adam and Eve than it actually says about them and the consequences of their sin.
The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is foundational theology for Jews, Christians, and Muslims – the 55% of the world who are monotheists.
Many different denominational belief systems have developed from the story.
Doctrines are the individual teachings of synagogs, churches, and mosques. All major religious groups have splintered many times over doctrines – and are still splintering today – with each splinter group claiming to have the correct understanding of the scriptures.
The original text of the Eden story is not in question. Everyone agrees on the actual words as written in Hebrew. The differences are only in translation and interpretation of the words and each group's particular stretches and add-ons.
This Bible study – and the supplemental studies linked from this page – display relevant scripture verses on four major theological questions, all arising from the Eden story, that have become barriers to faith for doubters and unbelievers.
Most Bible studies elsewhere use the fill-in-the-blanks method to affirm what members of the group already believe ... to make sure desired answers are given ... and to make everyone feel good by thinking that they have participated in a thorough study.
However, the Bible studies on this site use the Socratic method of study to address troubling issues ... nondenominational ... objectively listening to difficult questions and searching the Bible for answers ... and thinking deeply about putting all together for coherent understanding and presentation to outsiders.
For people today, the doctrinal issues derived from the Eden story are more important than details of the narrative itself.
The common Christian belief is that the earth was a perfect paradise until Adam sinned by eating forbidden fruit; his sin brought death into the world and ruined God's perfect creation. Christians say this is what the Bible teaches.
It sounds like utter nonsense to doubters and unbelievers and is a major barrier to Christian faith.
Christians believe it because this is what they have been taught by church tradition over the centuries. Most Christians, however, have never personally gone to the Bible to see if this is what the Bible actually says.
Everyone who believes that the earth was originally 'perfect' (from a human perspective) cites one verse as authority: 'God saw all that he had made, and it was very good' (Genesis 1:31).
This is the only verse in the entire Bible that speaks directly to the subject. A few other tangent verses are sometimes mentioned, but they don't say the earth was perfect; see Bible study here on Romans 5 and I Corinthians 15.
So from two words – 'very good' – a theological concept was developed by early church fathers which say that the earth was a perfect paradise until Adam sinned ... no discomfort, no problems, no illness, no death. But that's a stretch and add-on to what Genesis 1:31 actually says.
The verse says simply that God was very pleased with His creation. He had a plan. He implemented the plan perfectly. He looked at His physical creation and pronounced it ready to carry out His eternal purposes. That's all those two words say. Anything more is adding to scripture.
There ARE verses in the Bible which tell us that the earth was NOT a 'perfect paradise' as most Christians like to describe it:
In interpreting scripture, the words of Jesus take precedence over all other words in the Bible. What did Jesus say about Adam ruining the perfect creation? Nothing. Nothing to say because it never happened. It is dogma developed long after Jesus' resurrection and ascension. In fact, there is no record in the Bible of Jesus ever even mentioning Adam's name. If Adam caused such calamity on earth, certainly Jesus would have told us.
God did not create a static universe but rather a universe of constant change and peril. Physically, our earth is just a tiny part of an unfathomable cosmos that is still expanding and cooling.
We live on a thin crust floating on a gigantic ball of molten rock. Because of curvature, the crust has cracked into pieces (tectonic plates) that collide with each other and reconfigure continents and oceans. The plates thrust up mountains, causing earthquakes and volcanoes.
The earth is rotating daily on an annual orbit around the sun. This movement causes weather conditions of hot and cold, sun and cloud, dry and wet, still and wind.
The weather causes thunderstorms, lightning, fires, droughts, tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis, monsoons, floods, blizzards, and glaciers.
There are flies and mosquitoes in the air ... sharks and alligators in the water ... wild beasts, snakes, and spiders on the land. Creatures of every kind – even small organisms like bacteria and viruses – create innumerable dangers for us on planet earth.
There is no evidence from the Bible, science, or history that the earth was ever a tranquil paradise without violence and death. This is not God's mistake or shortcoming. This is how God intentionally created earth as the place for phase one of His eternal plan for human beings.
The issue here is that Bible genealogies (see genealogy chart) show that Adam lived about 4000 BC. If Adam and Eve were the first humans ... and if God created them in the same week He created everything else ... then nothing on earth is older than 6,000 years (or 10,000 years, allowing for possible gaps in the genealogies).
There is overwhelming scientific evidence that the earth is billions of years old and that there has been human activity and migrations for at least 40,000 years. This is taught as settled science in all Universities and schools of every kind, except Christian education.
This sets up a conflict: Either the Bible is right, or science is right, and everyone must choose one or the other. Presented with that stark choice, most people choose science.
If the Bible is wrong about the first humans, they reason, it is probably wrong about other matters too. So increasingly, the Bible is being regarded as an irrelevant ancient book that cannot be trusted, and Christianity in the United States is declining rapidly.
Christians are doing just the opposite of what Jesus told us to do. Our mission is to make disciples (Matthew 28:19). Forcing the stark choice is a major reason why, as share of population, we are losing disciples instead of making disciples.
The purpose of this study is to re-read and re-think the Eden story in light of modern knowledge to see if the Bible really compels the stark choice.
Most people have been taught in church that Adam and Eve were the first humans on earth, but few have ever seriously studied God's six-day creation and the story of Adam and Eve direct from the Bible.
People just assume that it's a single continuous story, never realizing that it's probably two stories: Creation (Genesis 1:1 thru 2:3) and Eden (Genesis 2:8 thru 3:24), with a summary transition statement (Genesis 2:4-7) and thousands of years in-between.
The creation of humans occurred in Day 6, but the Eden story occurred in Day 7, explained in the Bible study here on God's creation days.
A 'day' (Hebrew yō·wm), as used in Genesis 1, is longer than 24 hours.
The Genesis 1 creation story tells only that God created humans, male and female, but doesn't mention any individuals or human choices. The Genesis 2-4 Garden of Eden story tells about individuals and choices.
The Bible study here about people before Adam shows that Adam was the first sinner but does not compel a conclusion that he was the first person.
Bible genealogies say that Adam lived approximately 4,000 BC. Many Christians, perhaps most, believe that the earth was a perfect paradise until the moment he sinned and brought death into the world.
This creates two problems that have become barriers to faith for people outside the church:
PROBLEM 1. This means that nothing on earth died until about 6,000 years ago.
So people are thinking: How can any intelligent person today believe in a book that is totally contrary to what we know to be true, i.e., overwhelming scientific, archeological, and historical evidence that there has been life on earth – living and dying – for millions or billions of years?
PROBLEM 2. This means that God must not be perfect if one man could thwart God's plan and wreck what He created.
So people are thinking: It sounds like a serious design flaw. How could an all-powerful and all-knowing God be blindsided and let such a horrendous thing happen? The Bible must be a fantasy story full of contradictions and cannot be trusted.
The purpose of this Topic 1.4 is to re-read and re-think the Eden story to see if the Bible really says that the earth was perfect and without any death before Adam sinned. Maybe it's Christian traditions – not the Bible – that create these credibility problems and turn people away from the Bible and from Jesus.
Everything physical is mortal (will cease to exist), even non-living things, including the stars we now observe imploding into black holes. Eventually, the earth itself will die.
'The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way ...' (2 Peter 3:10-11).
If there were no death before Adam, that would mean God created everything immortal – even Adam – but there is nothing in the Bible to even hint that the earth or any part of it was once immortal. In fact, it's an oxymoron: Immortal means never die, so how can something immortal become mortal?
The human condition – the default condition – like the condition of everything else in God's creation, is that eventually, we die. Death is not a design flaw or mistake. God knew exactly what He was doing and what would happen.
Death is a practical necessity to prevent overcrowding and suffocation ... to sustain the food chain ... to enable continuous growth and change ... and to give meaning to eternal life.
There is ample evidence that the cycle of life-and-death was functioning on earth long before 4000 BC, the time the Bible says sin first entered the world 'through' Adam (not 'because' of Adam), studied in depth in the Bible study here on original sin and Romans 5.
If there was death on earth before Adam, then Adam's sin cannot be the cause of death.
Romans 5:12-13 and I Corinthians 15:22 and 15:45-47 are the principal passages of scripture cited for the belief that Adam's sin caused all death. These passages are studied in depth in the Bible study here on sin and cause of death. Upon close examination, these passages don't say what most people seem to think they say.
Most Christians shrug off the unjust horror of original sin by saying that it really doesn't matter because all anyone needs to do is accept Jesus as Savior, and then it's no longer an issue.
The problem is that many people are so repelled by this perception of Christianity that they never get to that point.
Getting it right is not a matter of how original sin affects us, but how it gives other people a wrong understanding of God's character and becomes a serious barrier to faith, contrary to the mission given to us by Jesus.
We should not ascribe to the Bible more than it actually says, especially when stretches and add-ons become turn-offs for doubters and unbelievers.
The story of Adam and Eve raises this theological question: Does God ever hold a person guilty for the sin of another?
How we answer the question here sets the pattern for our understanding of sin and eternal life in all parts the Bible.
A majority of Christians – Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox – have been taught that the full guilt for Adam's sin is placed on every human being and that, without salvation through Jesus, everyone will burn in hell forever because of this imputed guilt, even apart from one's own sin, and even people who never heard of Adam or Jesus.
Everyone, church tradition says, is born guilty and condemned to hell.
This doctrine is known as original sin, inherited sin, transmitted sin, and ancestral sin.
None of these terms appear anywhere in the Bible.
The doctrine of original sin – that we are all guilty for Adam's sin – was conceived by theologians long after the death of Jesus, the Apostles, and all the New Testament writers.
Jesus taught only that we are guilty of our own sins. There is no record of Jesus ever even mentioning Adam's name.
The doctrine of original sin had its origin in the writings of Tertullian (160-220) and Cyprian (200-258). It was popularized by Augustine (354-430), Luther (1483-1546), and Calvin (1509-1564).
The doctrine of original sin was built primarily upon these three verses:
There are 31,102 verses in the Bible, but these are the three verses upon which the doctrine of original sin was built, a very small biblical footing for such a monstrous doctrine!
Christians talk about original sin as though it is a theme that runs through the Bible. Not so. It rests upon three verses pulled out of a broad context of free will and individual choice.
Even with these verses out of context – read them again! – one has to strain to try to make them say that everyone is guilty of Adam's sin. It's a big stretch, and it's adding to scripture.
If Adam caused a horrific change in God's master plan and basic human nature, we would expect the Bible to contain more than three brief – and questionable – references to such an event that affects the life and destiny of every person ever to live on earth. We would certainly expect Jesus and his twelve Apostles to have said something about it, but they never mentioned Adam or any such catastrophic event.
Proponents of the doctrine of original sin sometimes also cite these additional verses for support, but notice that they don't mention Adam or a catastrophic event:
Proponents of the doctrine of original sin say that Adam was 'federal head' of the entire human race, the representative who made decisions on behalf of all humankind with binding eternal consequences for every person who ever lives at any time or place on earth.
Nowhere does the Bible say that God appointed Adam to be federal head of the human race. This is conjecture without any biblical support.
Furthermore, nowhere does the Bible say that people are ever individually guilty before God for the sins of their leader, even though they may suffer worldly consequences because of a leader's misdeeds and bad decisions.
'The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father' (Deuteronomy 24:16). 'The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers' (Ezekiel 18:20). The Bible teaches that people will stand before God at the judgment for their own sin, not for the sins of their fathers.
The theologians who constructed the doctrine of original sin did not have any personal interaction with Jesus or his disciples. Hundreds of years had passed. Oral transmission was no longer consistent and trustworthy, so for truth, they studied the same verses in the Bible that we study today.
Now we can study these verses as well – even better – than they could in their day, for reasons explained here at Today we know more.
Proponents of the doctrine of original sin build it primarily on their interpretation of Romans 5:12-21. This passage, and others, are examined verse-by-verse in the Bible study here on original sin.
People outside of church think that God – if they believe He even exists – must be cruel and unjust to place the most hideous punishment possible on everyone, even newborn babies, for a sin they didn't commit or even know about.
This repulsive image undercuts everything Christians can say about God's love and justice. It portrays God as an angry monster.
People can understand punishment for one's own sins – punishment commensurate with the offense – but original sin is so contrary to love and justice that it can hardly even be imagined.
Being able to die in hell eventually would be an act of mercy ... but torture FOREVER is unimaginable cruelty.
Any deep conversation about sin – and original sin in particular – raises the question of punishment.
The traditional Christian belief is that sinners without salvation through Jesus will be punished by burning in hell, unable to die, for all eternity.
Doubters and unbelievers cannot see any love or justice if all unforgiven sinners are arbitrarily punished the same way, forever, unable to die, especially people who have never even heard about Adam or his sin, or about Jesus and his offer of salvation.
The Bible makes it clear that there is a hell for unforgiven sinners after judgment ... BUT hardly anyone asks where in the Bible it says that people will burn in hell FOREVER. Where does the Bible say THAT?
If anyone responds at all to that question, it is usually with an abbreviated quote from one or more of these six verses:
However – read carefully! – these verses do not say that any person alive now or in the past will burn in hell FOREVER.
These verses say only that the FIRE (not people) will burn forever (except for some people in a future age, along with Satan and his demons) ... and that the punishment (sentencing) is eternal (final, no hope of any reprieve).
Contrary to burning FOREVER, JESUS SAID clearly that people will eventually die, burn up, be destroyed, consumed, and perish in the everlasting fire prepared for Satan and his demons.
There are 36 verses in the Bible on the subject of punishment and duration in hell. All of the verses are laid out and discussed in the Bible study here on time in hell.
There is universal agreement regarding the exact content of all Bible manuscripts as they were originally written in Hebrew and Greek.
But people come to different conclusions about how to translate and interpret the original manuscripts, influenced primarily by the tradition of one's family, friends, and church.
There is a tendency, especially among theologians, to find something new in a passage – making assumptions, stretching meanings, or appending add-ons – to make it say more than it was meant to say.
There are over 2,500 different church denominations, each studying the same Bible, and each believing it has the right view on every theological issue.
Over the centuries, this has resulted in traditions becoming so interwoven with scripture that most people cannot tell the difference.
Most Christians read the Bible for comfort, inspiration, guidance, religious duty, and/or affirmation for what they already believe. Most read the Bible at the surface level through the lens of their own church dogmas, and few study it with an open mind.
Among Christians inside the church, the differences usually don't matter much because the core message is loud and clear: We are sinners in need of Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior, who paid the penalty for our sins by his substitutionary death on the cross and who now offers forgiveness, strength, guidance and eternal life as a free divine gift to all who truly desire it and gratefully accept it.
But among many people outside the church, especially the younger generations, their impression of the Bible is an incoherent jumble of ancient stories, factual distortions, and weird ideas.
For example, consider the following commentary on the four topics discussed on this page.
See how clear Bible teaching becomes intertwined with theological stretches and add-ons.
➤ Even when limited to just the five topics discussed above (Questions 1-5), imagine how the STRETCHED Bible message comes across to doubters and unbelievers:
The commentary above illustrates how stretches and add-ons become huge barriers to faith. They seldom clarify. They usually confuse and repel. They destroy confidence in the Bible as a book of truth, make a mockery of God's love and justice, and prevent doubters and unbelievers from wanting Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
Unwittingly, Christians are creating reasons for people to trash God in their minds.
The Christian mission is to 'make disciples' (Matthew 28:19). To strengthen Bible credibility and draw people to Jesus Christ, Christians should be careful not to ascribe to the Bible more than it actually says.